My Experience at Yale University

The tutors behind Varsity Tutors are not just here to teach – they’re sharing their college experiences as well. Murat earned his Bachelor’s degree in Religious Studies from Yale University in 2014. He is a Washington, D.C. tutor specializing in many subject areas, including Spanish tutoring, SAT prep tutoring, and Algebra tutoring. Check out his review of Yale University:

VT: Describe the campus setting and transportation options. How urban or safe is the campus? Are there buses or do you need a car/bike?

Murat: The Yale University campus is located in New Haven, Connecticut. While the university maintains close ties with the city, the campus is a world unto itself. Most buildings are located within walking distance of one another. The farthest section of the campus is Science Hill, where most of the science lab and lecture courses are taught. It is located about 10-15 minutes from the residential areas (called residential colleges). All the other buildings are located very close to the residential colleges, so everything can be reached by walking. There is a free shuttle service that takes you to most places around campus, and it comes in handy during the cold winter months, especially for students who take a lot of science courses. A car is not needed, and while a bike might be useful, most students do not use them during the winter months. Yale University is a safe campus, and while crime does occur in New Haven, the Yale Police Department does a fantastic job of keeping students safe. At night, there are free door-to-door shuttle services that any student can use. They are useful when you are visiting friends who live far from your residential college. The Yale University campus is beautiful (perhaps the most beautiful college campus in the United States), and walking its grounds every day is a treat that I know I would not have gotten at any other college. 

VT: How available are the professors, academic advisers, and teaching assistants?

Murat: The faculty at Yale University is as available as a student wants them to be. All professors are required to hold office hours, and most are willing to meet with students at other times as long as an appointment is made in advance. Professors love meeting with students and helping them not only with course material, but also with academic and career counseling. Freshman year, your residential college dean is your main academic adviser, and they are fantastic when trying to navigate Yale University’s abundant resources, from choosing an adequate course load to thinking about study abroad experiences. Sophomore through senior years, you get to choose your own academic adviser, and he or she can be any professor at Yale University. Each major also has a Director of Undergraduate Studies who serves as the main academic adviser for seniors. In addition, those students writing a senior thesis have thesis advisers who meet with them several times throughout the entire writing process. Most, although not all courses, have teaching assistants, who teach one “section” (in addition to the lecture/seminar hours) every week. Teaching assistants are also readily available via email and in person, and they really make an effort to create a positive class environment. For some of my courses, my teaching assistants were actually much more interesting and engaging than my professors. I would like to emphasize that it is really up to the students how much advantage they take of the faculty’s availability. Even if you are not taking a class with a professor and you want to meet to talk about career paths or potential future classes, he or she is always happy to talk to and advise students.

VT: How would you describe the dorm life – rooms, dining options, location, socialization opportunities with other students?

Murat: Yale University’s dorm life is unique in that it is divided into 12 residential colleges (soon to be 14). Each student is randomly assigned to a residential college at the start of his or her freshman year. Each college has its own courtyard, dining hall, gym, library, recreational areas, laundry room, movie screening rooms, and many other amenities that make residential life very fun and practical. Each residential college holds between 200-400 students, and most are very centrally located. The thing that I liked about the colleges was their sense of community. Colleges compete against each other in intramural sports, and each college has a particular color and mascot/symbol. While most of your friends will probably be those in your college (simply because you live so close to them from freshman year on), inter-college socialization happens all the time, and most students have many friends outside of their colleges. Each college has a Master, who is in charge of the social and emotional well being of all students. Masters organize events, such as barbecues, field trips, shopping trips, and workshops, that all students can participate in. Yale University’s residential units are called suites, and each suite has a bedroom and a common room. Juniors and seniors can live in co-ed suites, while freshmen and sophomores can only live in single-sex suites, although most floors are also co-ed (single-sex floors are available for people who require it for special reasons). Students are required to live in a residential college their freshman and sophomore years, and they have the option of living off-campus their junior and senior years. 

VT: Which majors/programs are best represented and supported? What did you study and why? Did the university do a good job supporting your particular area of study?

Murat: While most students major in the humanities and social sciences, Yale University has been investing millions of dollars into its science department, which is one of the most sophisticated and advanced in the world. I undertook a unique career path, in that I pursued pre-medical studies while majoring in something related to the humanities (Religious Studies). I wanted to be a doctor, but I did not want to limit my undergraduate education to just social sciences. Like most majors at Yale University, the Religious Studies department gave me a lot of flexibility in assembling my own set of courses and in molding the major to my own interests. I took a lot of courses in the Latin American Studies and History departments, and was even able to take PhD-level classes that counted toward my major. Very few people major in Religious Studies (there were only eight of us in my class), but that makes for a better learning experience because each student has much more access to the faculty. The advising that takes place is also much more personalized. The advantage of other larger majors, such as History, Political Science, Biology, or English, is that those departments have a lot of money available for students to use for their research. One of my close friends, for example, was able to travel to France for two weeks (paid for by the English department) to do research on Albert Camus for his senior thesis. I would say, however, that there is room for improvement in certain area studies. Most humanities and social science programs have strong offerings in courses related to Europe, East Asia, and America, but there are very few courses that focus on Latin America and Africa.

VT: How easy or difficult was it for you to meet people and make friends as a freshman? Does Greek life play a significant role in the campus social life? 

Murat: Yale University students are very hard working, but also very sociable. The residential college system makes it very easy to establish friendships from day one. Extracurricular student groups are extremely active on campus, and they make a good effort to attract and recruit freshmen. There are also cultural groups that facilitate friendships between students of common heritages. While Greek life exists at Yale University, the majority of students do not rush fraternities or sororities, and it really does not play a significant role in campus social life. Yale University’s unofficial motto is “work hard, play harder,” so most students do take the time to have fun and enjoy their college experience, especially during the weekends.            

VT: How helpful is the Career Center and other student support services? Do many reputable companies recruit on campus?

Murat: It really depends on the career you are pursuing. From personal experience, I can say that Yale University has a very poor pre-medical advising center, and pre-medical students often end up feeling confused and dissatisfied when seeking the Career Center’s services. For students wanting to go into a career in consulting and finance, the Career Center is a great place to go, as most counselors have a lot of experience dealing with large firms like J.P. Morgan, Deloitte, and McKinsey & Company, all of which do heavy on-campus recruitment. For students pursuing a career in the public sector, while public firms/organizations do not really recruit on campus, counselors have a lot of knowledge in this area, and they will advise you properly on potential fellowships and jobs that you might want to pursue. The Career Center also has a fantastic International Experience section, which does a great job in advising students who want to pursue a semester, or even a career, abroad.  

VT: How are the various study areas such as libraries, the student union, and dorm lounges? Are they over-crowded, easily available, spacious?

Murat: It also depends. Most of the year, there will be plenty of space in libraries and recreational areas to study comfortably. When finals come, however, libraries do tend to become overcrowded, and many students prefer to study in their dorm rooms. Libraries have private study rooms that students can book in advance, but they tend to be overbooked (during finals, it’s impossible to get one). Most classroom buildings are also left open throughout the night, and students can freely wander into different classrooms to study by themselves or in groups. All students have ID access to two main libraries, the libraries of the different professional schools, and their own residential college libraries (more than 10 libraries in total). On a side note, the Yale University libraries are a great resource for all students. Each student has a personal librarian that is readily available to guide students through the millions of sources that exist. One time, for example, I asked my personal librarian if Yale University had access to Chilean newspapers between 1973 and 1976 for an essay that I was writing. A couple of hours later, I was in the library going through digital microfilm that included every single issue from a Chilean paper called El Mercurio from 1970 to the present.

VT: Describe the surrounding town. What kinds of outside establishments / things to do are there that make it fun, boring, or somewhere in between? To what extent do students go to the downtown area of the city versus staying near campus?  

Murat: Despite the fact that New Haven has a bad reputation, it really is what you make of it. While most of my friends who did not go to Yale University do not believe me when I tell them this, New Haven has one of the best restaurant scenes in the country. Most restaurants are located within a short walking distance from the central campus, and they offer delicious (although expensive) options from all around the world. The city also has a good shopping scene, with brands such as Urban Outfitters, Apple, and J. Crew right on the heart of campus. Yale University has a lot of museums that are open to the public, and a wonderful theater scene that offers shows year-round. New Haven also has a great natural environment, with pleasant hiking trails and lots of forest space. For those students over 21, the bar scene is very varied (and it’s growing at a fast pace), and while expensive, it is a lot of fun. Most parties and socializing, however, take place on campus, not in the city.

Yale University also offers many opportunities to get involved with the New Haven community at large. There are many student organizations that are devoted to improving the life of people in the community in various ways, from offering free health services to undocumented migrants, to tutoring students in middle school, to working in soup kitchens to help the poor. In fact, many of my friends who were very involved with New Haven loved the city and ended up staying afterward, working for grassroots or political organizations.

VT: How big or small is the student body? Were you generally pleased or displeased with the typical class sizes?

Murat: Each class has about 1,400 students. Classroom sizes vary, depending on whether you take a big lecture course or a small seminar. Because I was both a pre-medical and Religious Studies student, I ended up having a combination of both. I highly preferred small seminars to large lecture courses because they allowed me to participate more actively and to get to know the professor better. My largest biology course, for example, had more than 200 students, and interactions with the professor during class were very limited.

VT: Describe one memorable experience with a professor and/or class. Perhaps one you loved the most or one you regret the most.

Murat: Like any other school, Yale University has wonderful professors and bad professors (thankfully, more wonderful than not). I will begin by describing the class that I liked the least: Organic Chemistry I. Not only was this a huge lecture course with more than 100 students, but the professor also made no effort whatsoever to create an engaging class environment. The one time that I went to see him for office hours, he fell asleep as I was asking him a question, so I awkwardly stood up and left without disturbing him. Naturally, for such a difficult subject, having such a horrible professor made the experience even worse.

But most of the time, I felt incredibly lucky for being at a place like Yale University. For one of my favorite courses, Tibetan Buddhism, my professor decided to hold class one day at the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library. Inside one of the seminar rooms in the library, my professor uncovered ancient Buddhist paintings that had been saved from Tibet prior to the Chinese occupation and that only existed in few other places in the world. That day, my professor also invited a Tibetan Lama (spiritual leader) to speak. As I sat in class that day, listening to the Lama unlock the secrets of the Tibetan paintings, I knew that only at Yale University would I ever have an opportunity like this.

Check out Murat’s tutoring profile.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Varsity Tutors.